Last night down in South Beach, the Miami Heat easily defeated the New York Knicks 95-78. Justise Winslow, a rookie out of Duke who you may remember, scored seven points, played 31 minutes, and in those 31 minutes, Miami was +28 points with him on the floor. He also did this, which was freaking nasty — poor Aaron Afflalo:
It’s official — the 2015 NBA Draft class is fun as hell, and really good. In a throwback to days of yonder, most of the rookie attention has surrounded three big men: Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor and KRISTAPS PORZINGIS, whose damn name requires the all-caps treatment — because it’s tremendous, and those are double-double letters, son!
Towns has the making of a future perennial all-star and top-ten player in the league; Okafor is going to be this generation’s Al Jefferson; and who in god’s name knows what the ceiling holds for Porzingis — a 7-3 19-year-old Latvian who can shoot threes and grab every offensive rebound in sight.
While this triumvirate of big fellas has been stealing the show and most of the national headlines, Winslow — the rookie down in the 305 — is playing some of the best defense you’ll ever see from a 19-year-old, and helping a Heat squad return to the playoffs for the first time since LeBron left town.
Outside of Okafor’s interior offensive prowess, Winslow’s multi-positional talent was perhaps the most important reason for Duke’s run to last season’s national title. Winslow’s ability to play the nominal power forward spot allowed the Blue Devils to unlock a four-around-one small ball lineup that roasted fools. Starting with the January 28th game against Notre Dame, Winslow scored in double figures in all but one game for the rest of the season (the lone exception: Duke’s opening round demolition of Robert Morris in their NCAA Tournament opener, when he scored six points). Over this stretch of time, the Blue Devils lost only three games.
On draft night in June, Winslow — a prospect with a better than average chance of becoming a star in the NBA — somehow slipped to the No. 10 pick; lets not rehash how this happened, please. Miami wasted no time selecting the native of Houston, Texas, and so far, through the first 13 games of his young career, Winslow has done nothing but widen that grin on Pat Riley’s face.
His counting metrics may seem good yet unspectacular: 28.3 minutes, 7.5 points, 5 rebounds (which, still, damn), and 1.5 assists. He’s yet to find the range from deep, too: 6-23 on threes (26.1 percent).
However, what should inspire a lot of confidence, though, is that Winslow is a super athlete, who already seems to have a good grasp of the geometry of a contemporary NBA player on offense. Take a look at his shot chart from NBA.com; the vast majority of Winslow’s attempts have come at the rim or from beyond the arc in the corners — the two money spots:
Winslow’s only attempting 1.6 free throws per game, which really isn’t too shocking; this is a Miami offense dominated by guards Dwyane Wade (usage rate of 31 percent), Goran Dragic (off to a bad start so far, though), and power forward Chris Bosh. Winslow’s using only roughly 14 percent of the Heat’s possessions when he’s on the floor, per Basketball-Reference.com.
What’s abundantly clear at this incredibly stage, however, is the positive impact that Winslow has when he’s on the floor with the Heat, who at 9-4 are currently second place in the East. According to NBA.com, when Winslow’s in the game, Miami’s scoring 104.1 points per 100 possessions, and giving up only 88.1 points per 100 possessions — which would easily rank as the No. 1 defense in the league. (The Spurs are the NBA’s current top defensive unit, giving up only 96.35 points per 100 possessions.)
With Winslow sitting comfy on the bench, Miami’s offense and defense dip, significantly. The Heat score only 98.9 points per 100, and the defense surrenders 102 points per 100. Put it this way: The Heat are nearly 19 points better per 100 possessions when Justise Winslow is on the floor — that’s a massive margin.
Also, the Heat’s two best lineups that have played 30 or more minutes together so far this year both feature Winslow in them, and both are defending at an absurd rate. The five-man group of Winslow, Dragic, Wade, Luol Deng (another one-year wonder in Durham), and Hassan Whiteside, who’s currently playing out of his freaking mind, has logged 64 minutes together this season; in that span of time, they’ve held opponents to only 79.1 points per 100 possessions. Miami currently has the second most efficient defense in the league (97.2 points per 100 possessions) and Winslow — along with Whiteside and Bosh — has played a massive role in that ascension: he’s currently third on the team in defensive win shares and fifth in defensive box score plus/minus.
Winslow has brought every ounce of that athleticism he flashed last season in Durham with him to Miami, too — and he’s had more than his fair share of highlights through the first 13 games of his rookie campaign.
It’s super early in this dude’s career, obviously, but he hasn’t just been a highlight package; Winslow has already checked a laundry list of the league’s top perimeter scorers, and done a fine job defensively: LeBron, Carmelo Anthony, James Harden, Paul George, Andrew Wiggins — and he’ll see Kevin Durant in exactly two weeks when the Thunder come to town.
In Year One of Post-LeBron basketball in Miami, the Heat struggled in 2014-15 — winning only 37 games, and finishing in the bottom third in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And while that may have hit hard a year ago, it did give them a ticket to the 2015 draft lottery — a place they’re not accustomed to being. Since drafting Wade No. 3 overall back in 2003, Miami has had only one other lottery selection: Michael Beasley in 2008.
Now, in Winslow, they have a guy who can play alongside Wade, learn valuable information, contribute immediately, and perhaps carry the torch for this franchise for the next decade. Pat Riley stays winning, man.